SAN DIEGO — As wildfires raged through San Diego County communities this week, most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area were spared serious damage to property. But at least 16 LDS families of the Poway California Stake were among the hundreds to find their houses burned to the ground.
Stake President Gary Sabin pointed out some of the devastation within his stake's boundaries during a tour of the Rancho Bernardo area Wednesday. The canyons of the upscale development were charred by fire. Houses appeared to have fallen victim to a bombing raid, with some unscathed while others nearby were reduced to ashes.
Such was the case for Dave and Bobbi Brunson and John and Kathy Huish, who live across the street from each other. The Brunson house was gone. The Huish family lost a wicker chair but little else. As was the case with many who were spared, John Huish felt bad for his neighbor. But he felt fortunate that his house was spared, along with the Christmas decorations that were going
up around it.
If the embers that landed on the chair, burning it and a few shrubs around it, had spread from the porch to the house, it would have destroyed a holiday tradition the Huish family has provided to thousands of children who have toured the home the 12 days before Christmas for the past seven years.
The homes were spared as flames were spread where the wind and best fuels compelled them, sometimes blowing so fast past a house that the house was spared.
Palm trees directly in front of a carport connected to a house were blackened by fire but somehow had not ignited the wooden eaves. President Sabin heard that firefighters had seen the palms burning and doused them. All he lost was a small outbuilding.
That wasn't the case for Jeff and Chris Mangum. Their stately home overlooking the valley was completely gone, replaced by a black mat of ash. Even the water in their swimming pool was black.
The home of Mark and Terri Wery of the Lake Poway Ward was still smoldering more than a day after it burned to the ground. It was an ominous sight, even as helicopters flew in the distance, carrying huge buckets of water over the hills to douse flames threatening other homes.
The Werys lost not only their home but also their business. They operated a care center for the elderly.
Though he had to deal with more homes lost than any other stake in the area, President Sabin was confident the families would be all right, going forward and rebuilding their lives. He was also confident that their friends in the church as well as the community would do all they could to support them.
"There seems to be a real hunger to help by those who haven't been affected," he said. "That speaks volumes about the quality of people we have in the church and in the community."
In Mira Mesa, about 14 miles north of downtown San Diego, Utah native Amy Crum and her husband, Brian, warily awaited their turn to evacuate even as firefighters made gains.
"The fire started on Sunday, and we were kind of just keeping an eye on it, but it was kind of to the north of us so we weren't worried about it," Crum said Wednesday. "We woke up Monday morning, and it had really gotten out of control."
The fire's front was still about 15 miles northeast of their home, but neighborhoods within one-half mile of their rented condominium were being evacuated Monday.
"We packed important things in the car to get ready to evacuate," Crum said. "Then the wind shifted a little bit and the fire started heading away from us, so we were a little more comfortable."
The air Monday and Tuesday was so thick with smoke it made her feel nauseated and dehydrated. "It's a lot better today (Wednesday) than it was before."